The saving, spending and investment behaviour of Western expats in increasingly popular locations have been revealed for the first time by a new survey.
A poll of hundreds of expats in Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, three destinations that are becoming increasingly sought after for overseas jobs, shows those in the UAE seem to spend more on life’s luxuries and are perhaps less financially prudent.
The study carried out by Standard Life found that about 97% of those in the UAE spent some of their disposable income on luxury lifestyle choices, 31% sought professional financial advice and only 9% invested in equity.
In comparison, spending on luxury lifestyle choices among respondents was much lower in Singapore at 51% and just 47% in Hong Kong. A higher number of expats in Singapore and Hong Kong sought professional financial advice at 49% and 53% respectively.
The findings are regarded as something of a surprise, as the UAE is a low tax jurisdiction, and because many of those who take assignments in the Gulf region do so for the financial benefits.
The study also revealed that preference towards equity investments was significantly higher in Singapore and Hong Kong at 43% and 71%, however, about 70% of UAE respondents invested in mutual funds, as compared to 67% in Singapore and 56% in Hong Kong.
‘Saving and spending behaviour can be varied with locations and demographics, but it is clear that most become expatriates due to financial factors. They move to high earning, tax-friendly cities with the intention to save and secure their financial future,’ said Chris Divito, chief executive office of Standard Life’s Dubai International Finance Centre Branch.
About 66% of respondents in Singapore and 56% in Hong Kong preferred to invest in gold, as opposed to only 15% in the UAE. While, property investments were most popular among Singapore respondents, followed by Hong Kong and the UAE.
‘It is seen that investors in more developed capital markets like Hong Kong and Singapore had a higher allocation for equities than upcoming markets like the UAE. We are investing in this research to understand our Western expat customers better, so that we can offer them the right financial solutions across different locations and jurisdictions,’ explained Divito.
The study also revealed that about 84% of expats in Hong Kong believe they will have sufficient income post retirement, followed by the 76% in the UAE and 47% in Singapore. It also found that only 35% of UAE expats plan to return home after retirement, in comparison to 90% in Singapore.
‘Many of the responses reflect demographics and market attributes. The belief about sufficient retirement planning among UAE respondents is quite interesting as this group was found to have the least inclination for savings,’ explained Divito.
‘There could be a mismatch between aspirations and realities or income and expenditure. This is increasingly evident as we can see that fewer UAE respondents rely on professional financial advice,’ he added.
The first Standard Life Western Expat Wealth Study was conducted during July and August by Insight Discovery, an independent research firm. The 400 expats interviewed had monthly disposable household incomes of more than $6,500, and 70% were from the UK. The rest were from Australia, New Zealand, France and Ireland.
Of the participants who took part in the survey 54% were between 26 and 35 years old, while 34% were between 36 and 45 years, and 12% were between 45 and 60 years old. Some 55% were married and the male to female breakdown was 43% to 57%.